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Tyson and Givens--the Main Event

HOWARD ROSENBERG

October 12, 1988|Howard Rosenberg

The media adventures of Batterman and Robin are getting uglier and uglier.

And not just in New York's tabloid press. For example, Monday's CNN "Newsnight Poll" asked: "Should Mike Tyson be given an annulment of his marriage to Robin Givens?" And "USA Today: The Television Show" invited its viewers to respond to that all-important question: "Should Robin Givens get any of Mike Tyson's money?"

Pardon me. I hate spoiling the fun. But aren't we forgetting something here, something more significant than the terms of the apparent breakup of the oddly coupled heavyweight champ and cast member of the ABC comedy "Head of the Class"?

What looms largest concerning this media-inflated domestic tiff is not whether Givens did or did not marry Tyson for his millions. Or whether her mother, Ruth Roper, is or isn't guilty of trying to manipulate Tyson. Or whether Tyson will or will not somehow achieve inner serenity by climbing back into the ring and destroying another opponent as easily as he did Michael Spinks.

What looms largest is this: Did Mike Tyson physically abuse Robin Givens?

That issue has been nearly obscured by all the juicy gossip. Reports of such abuse having been answered by Tyson with ambiguous denials that raise more questions than they answer.

In a highly publicized interview several months ago, he said only that he never hit his wife with a "closed fist." Whatever that meant.

And in that infamous ABC interview with Barbara Walters that was taped Sept. 27 and aired three days later, he denied that he "beat" or "hit" Givens, but said also: "I grabbed my wife and hold my wife, you know what I mean? I shake my wife up. I never totally struck my wife." Whatever that meant.

On the same program, as Tyson sat beside her without dissenting, Givens said about her husband's behavior: "He shakes, he pushes, he swings. Sometimes, I think he's trying to scare me. . . . Just recently, I've become afraid."

Three days later, police were called to the couple's $4.2-million New Jersey estate to calm Tyson down after he reportedly hurled furniture through windows in a fit of rage. And the next day, Givens filed for divorce, followed by reports that Tyson would seek an annulment, followed by Givens switching attorneys, followed by more rumors, and so on and so on.

What does it all mean? You get hints from the TV coverage.

On Fox's "A Current Affair" Monday, a reporter gave this evaluation of Tyson-Givens: "Many believe the crushing blow to their eight-month marriage was thrown by Robin on television . . . ."

That is to say that it wasn't Tyson's allegedly aggressive behavior but Givens disclosing that behavior to Walters on TV that apparently destroyed the marriage.

Scads of people have now emerged from the woodwork to become authorities on Tyson and get their mugs on TV, and he continues to get vocal support from his friends and boxer pals.

They include former light-heavyweight champ Jose Torres, who was asked by "A Current Affair" anchor Maury Povich whether Tyson was a violent man. "I have never seen him violent with anyone," he replied. Povich said Torres was "coming out" with a book on Tyson.

Among the guests on "CBS This Morning" Monday were Tyson's surrogate mother Camille Ewald and his trainer Kevin Rooney, with Kathleen Sullivan doing the interviewing. Does Tyson have a violent temper? "Definitely not," Ewald replied. Could he hit a woman? "No," Ewald replied.

Well, so much for that.

And anyway, just look at Givens, many seem to be saying. She's flirty. And just listen to her. She talks real smart. She's obviously messing up Tyson's mind with her hoity-toity attitude. Even if she was cuffed around a bit by a man who has made millions clobbering opponents in the ring, didn't she deserve it? A guy's gotta let off a little steam now and then.

Isn't that the repulsive undertone here, one perpetuated by some of TV's obsession with the tabloid aspect of this case?

Like many others in the Tyson camp, Rooney blames Givens and her mother for the champ's problems. "They started becoming very bossy," he told Sullivan. "She (Givens) didn't want to be his wife, she wanted to his boss."

What also strikes you about the Tyson-Givens coverage is how frequently the media ascribe expertise to those undeserving of it. We're supposed to be impressed when Ewald and Rooney take issue with reports that Tyson is a manic depressive. We're supposed to be impressed when Torres says with assurance: "You cannot be champion of the world and be a manic depressive."

Perhaps a better approach would have been to ask each of them: What \o7 is\f7 a manic depressive?

Just as striking is how important it's supposedly become for Tyson to put this marriage controversy behind him and get back into the ring. It's important for those who stand to benefit financially from his continued boxing and for those who believe that Tyson deserves to be a global icon.

"He has to set an example for the children of the world," Rooney said, earnestly. "He has to get back into the ring."

When it comes to role models, the children of the world surely could do better than a 22-year-old man for whom life outside a boxing ring is absolute chaos.

In view of Tyson's apparent new reluctance to share his fortune with his estranged wife, meanwhile, it's interesting to recall more of the words he spoke to Walters:

"At this stage of my life, I do have many millions. My wife would just have to ask for it, and she has every penny I have. If she wants it right now, she can leave right now, take everything I have and just leave."

So it may be that his wife was merely taking him at his word.

And you can also say this for Robin Givens--she lasted longer with Mike Tyson than Michael Spinks did.

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